A Perfect Fit: Magee loves calling Roan Mountain home

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Roan Mountain’s David Magee is a busy man.
Magee, who has lived in Carter County for a year, lives on Old Railroad Grade Road where he runs Doe River Aquaponics, Doe River Hikers Rest, Roan Mountain Bike Rental, and makes his Legend Goat Soap.
For eight years, Magee and his wife, Karen, traveled around the country in their horse trailer hitting the trails and following the weather.
“We were looking for the perfect weather,” Magee said. “We lived in Puerto Rico. That weather is great. We lived in San Diego. It was too crowded and wasn’t conducive to our lifestyle. We have been there and done all that.”
But of all those places, it ended up being Roan Mountain’s mild summers and high elevation climate that fitted what the Magees were looking for. But the weather wasn’t the only thing they liked about the area.
“Then we found out that it is a really nice community,” said Magee. “It has really great people. It has really great restaurants. It’s now an A.T. community. We just really loved the place.”
Hikers and more hikers
The two story brick home that Magee lives in was formerly used to house migrant farm workers who worked in the local Christmas tree farms. With its upstairs rooms and adequate living space, the house makes for a good hostel, said Magee, and that is why he uses it for his Doe River Hikers’ Rest.
The idea to start a hiker’s rest sparked when, after shortly moving in, the Magees invited their friend Curt and his friends, who were hiking the Appalachian Trail, to come stay with them, and it didn’t take Curt long to realize what the Magee’s had.
“They looked at this place and said, ‘Dude, you have got a hostel. It is already ready to go,”‘ Magee said with a smile. “They educated us on how a hostel works, and that is where it started.”
Magee offers shuttle service to hikers who stay with him, taking them to Roan Mountain where they can get a bite to eat at a local restaurant or buy needed supplies. MaĆ’gee also provides some essential items at the hostel but said he would rather take the hikers to a local business to help support the community. His shuttle trips don’t have set times, and he is willing to take the hikers whenever they need to hit the town.
“I run it like a concierge service,” Magee said. “If you want to go to town to eat, let’s go.”
However, over his short time of running the hiker’s shelter, he has realized the most important thing to hikers is the stuff that most people take for granted.
“With hikers, it is just the little things that make them happy,” said Magee. “One guy told me that we are the greatest hostel ever just because we gave him a wash cloth.
“We have private rooms,” said Magee. “All the rooms have doors. On the trail, they are usually sleeping in huts and are all crammed together. So we give them a real mattress with clean sheets and blankets, towel and washcloths, our goat milk soap for the shower.”
Hikers who stay also get full use of the kitchen. In the living room, there is a big sectional where hikers can lay back and relax, and the Magee family dog may jump up and cuddle.
“They like the home feel,” said Magee. “I want them to feel at home.”
Here recently, Roan Mountain became the 41st Appalachian Trail community, and Magee, after talking with Carter County Commissioner Mike Hill, knew that it was important to get hikers into town so they could take advantage of every thing Roan Mountain has to offer.
“We said that we needed more business to town,” said Magee. “So how do we do that?”
Armed with a smile and a Coke, Magee started parking up at where the A.T. crosses Highway 19E and began offering hikers a nice cold beverage and a ride to local businesses. Magee estimated he has given out 4,500 Cokes, which he buys out of pocket.
“So, instead of them crossing the road and keep going, we are getting them to town,” Magee said. “So the little businesses have seen a huge up tick in business this Spring.”
Just in May, Magee said there were roughly 300 hikers who stayed at his rest.
Magee also gets occupants through Airbnb and workaway.info, which allows people to stay and eat in exchange for labor.
The Appalachian Trail is full of colorful characters making their way to Maine or Georgia, and that is apparent in one of Magee’s notebook which is filled with notes from many of the hikers who have stayed with his family. One drawing in the book depicts the legendary Holy Cow burger which is available at Bob’s Dairyland in Roan Mountain.
Fish, Plants, and Goats
Along with his hikers’ rest, Magee runs Doe River Aquaponics, which produces low acidic tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and other vegetables.
Magee’s self-sustained aquaponics setup uses two 375 gallons fish tanks which house goldfish and coy.
The water from the fish tanks is pumped into a greenhouse where it runs through gardening beds providing Magee’s plants with nutrients. Once through the beds, the water is pumped back to the fish tanks and the whole cycle starts over.
“Fish provide ten of the 13 nutrients plants need to eat,” Magee said. “Fish poop is a nitrite, and when it hits the beds, the bacteria change it into a nitrate which is what plants eat.”
The plants inside the aquaponic are not planted in soil but are placed inside rocks which are home to red wiggly worms which help with the process.
The food that is produced by the aquaponics is then used to feed hikers. Magee is a big proponent of “farm to table” and sustainability which he considers a big part of Appalachia and the Roan Mountain way.
“As I look at the history here, the mountain folk, they were self-sustained,” Magee said. “They canned. They grew. They wanted to be in these hollers and left alone. So talk about sustainability, this is where it started.”
Along with the aquaponics, Magee raises goats and uses their milk to create his Legend Goat Soap. Many of the hikers who have stayed with Mcgee have ended up ordering cases of his soap after using it at the hostel.
“I have a base clientele,” said Magee. “We ship it all over and sell it at the farmer’s market.”
With all of the things that Magee does, one of his biggest focuses is promoting Roan Mountain, a place he considers beautiful and full of great things to offer visitors.
“We have just fallen into this place, and it is just meant to be,” said Magee. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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